Make your brand irresistible by overcoming the gap between creativity and strategy

Keep in mind that a brand is not just a logo, a corporate identity system or a product itself; it is a gut feeling. You also need to realize that you can neither perfect a brand, nor control it.

What you can do, however, is ensure your company does business in a way that customers understand and appreciate. Once you do it, youll notice how your clients develop a gut feeling about your business the feeling that your brand is.

This article explains the five branding disciplines you need to follow to instill that positive gut feeling, when thinking about your company, that you want your customers to have.

Add some charisma to your brand by closing the gap between strategy and creativity.

Believe it or not, the Coca-Cola brand is worth $70 billion, and this figure represents only 60 percent of the companys total value!

Coca-Cola, however, isnt the only one. Today, any companys value depends on the strength of its brand.

So, how do you build a strong brand? The first step is to close the brand gap, a.k.a. the gap between strategy and creativity.

Heres how the brand gap works in most companies. Left-brained, strategy-oriented employees work together, perhaps, in the marketing department; they tend to have analytical, verbal and logical skills.

Meanwhile, the design department is exclusively populated by right-brained creators, who prove to be more intuitive as well as demonstrate strong spatial and visual skills.

Whenever any tension arises between the two polarized groups, you end up with a brand gap.

Perhaps, youve experienced it at your workplace. Have you ever developed a highly-sophisticated strategy that, upon execution, just wouldnt connect with customers? In this case, the brand gap is likely to be the cause.

Ultimately, this phenomenon poses a major problem; without a unified brand, your company wont be able to compete on the marketplace.

Look at it this way. Companies struggling from a brand gap cant properly convey their message; therefore, they dont establish any strong relationships with their clients. As a result, customers wont consistently buy companys products since they dont even know what to expect.

Speaking of charismatic brands, theres little so-called psychic distance between companies and their customers. In other words, clients should both have a solid relationship with a particular company and know what to expect from its products.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Apple and Nike, for instance, have succeeded by establishing brands that communicate ideas of joy, beauty and style the things people dream about. The main goal of any brand is to develop such an aspirational and appealing identity as well as consistently communicate it.

Today, each and every charismatic brand has mastered the five disciplines of branding.

Not only do successful brands know what they do and why it matters but, most importantly, stick to it!

Humans are hardwired to the unexpected it catches their attention. Such a survival strategy was used by our ancestors as a way to scope out any potential threats.

Today, you can use this impulse for your business to attain some competitive advantage. Thats why differentiation being unusual and unique is the first discipline of any successful brand.

Differentiation can be summed up by three questions. Your ability to answer these in a way that is appealing to customers determines whether you have a brand, or not:

  • Who are you? Most companies find this question easy. Youre John Deere!
  • What do you do? Lets say, your company produces tractors and related equipment.
  • Why does it matter? Well, it may get tricky with this one.

Answer the last question by saying, We make important products, and youll get bubkes nothing. Lots of companies produce important products. Stating that you sell the best selection of important products will get you bubkes again; everyone says so.

Lets go back to John Deere to find a convincing answer. The company would prove itself because generations of farmers trusted their equipment.

Overall, John Deeres responses to the three questions are simple and logically connected.

It leads us to a key aspect of differentiation, which is staying focused. A brand that is focused knows its worth, why it is different and makes it appealing. For instance, if John Deere started selling houses, it would be just another real estate company and it would lose its differentiation.

Being focused makes some executives feel uncomfortable because it implies narrowing, as if youre cutting yourself off from potential opportunities. However, being focused is the only way to be truly competitive.

Take Volvo, for instance. Their heavy and boxy, yet the safest cars on the market established the companys brand differentiation; they are what Volvo was known for. However, they decided to expand their product line and develop sexier, yet less safe car models which made their brand suffer for it.

Why give up your competitive niche if you have worked so hard to establish it? So, staying focused to differentiate your brand in any way is key.

Effective collaboration is crucial when building a charismatic brand.

A brand cannot develop in isolation. It requires people with all sorts of skills and specialties building it with common effort.

Therefore, collaboration is the second discipline of branding.

There are three key ways that can help you establish brand collaboration within your company.

First, you can outsource branding to another company. Such helpful one-stop shops can handle anything, from events and public relations to product design and packaging, which is quite convenient. However, there may be some drawbacks. Not only is it unlikely for one company to have strong expertise in every area you want to pursue, it is also risky to fully cede control of your brand to an outsider.

Another way to build brand collaboration is through cooperation with an agency. A branding agency assembles a team of experts and sub-contractors to handle your brands various needs. Still, even though the agency ensures a uniform message across outlets, youre taking a risk by outsourcing.

The third way is creating an integrated marketing team, where you hire a group of experts to work inside your company, focusing on advertising, identity, product design, strategy etc. From marketing to design, everyone comes together as a super-team.

Although such super-team requires a lot of resources and investment, following this strategy allows you to hold onto all the accruing brand knowledge within your own company.

It is worth noting that collaboration models may change with the rise of network organizations in the future. This is when separate companies and organizations unite to deliver a particular product or service to customers.

Hollywood demonstrates it best with all the directors, actors and other specialists coming together to make a movie, and splitting up to move on to different opportunities once the project is finished.

Look for innovative ways of expressing novel ideas to ensure your brand stands out.

It would be nice to woo your customers with a logical argument and convince your product is superior. However, such approach is not effective.

You have to inspire to win some consumers.

This is where the third discipline comes in: you have to bring innovation to become a leader on the market instead of following in others footsteps.

If everybody else zigs, you have to zag otherwise, why should potential consumers notice your product?

You have to look for new ways of expressing yourself if you are committed to developing an innovative idea. However, you dont necessarily have to reinvent the wheel.

Youre looking for MAYA as Raymond Loewy, an industrial designer, once noted the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable solution.

The Beatles are a fantastic example of this approach. The British pop group consistently innovated across all of their records for a long time. They started out in the early 1960s bringing some upbeat songs that conformed to mainstream tastes. Over time, they introduced rather unusual sounds and experimented with Indian instruments.

Opportunities for gradual innovation are everywhere. It might be a matter of changing your logo, or redesigning your website and packaging. You could even change your name! The point is, you should take advantage of every outlet to innovate your brand.

Innovation, without a doubt, can be quite risky. As Americans like to say: Dont rock the boat. Japanese businesspeople have a similar opinion, noting: The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

Innovation scares people in general. So, if your product triggers fear in others, it is a sure sign youve hit on something innovative that will catch attention.

Volkswagen straddled the line between risk and innovation with its humorous, attention-grabbing VW Bug automobile.

Using validation tests is a great way to check if your branding elements and messages actually work.

Brands no longer engage in one-way communication with their consumers. Nowadays, the brand-to-customer communication resembles more of a feedback loop once your company sends a message out, you get a response!

This communication mode is more interactive which is exactly why validation, the fourth brand discipline, is crucial.

Make sure you constantly validate your brand, ensuring it resonates with the real world, not only your companys brainstorming sessions. There are numerous ways to do it. One of them is called the concept test, which involves presenting prototypes of a branding element, such as your name, to a minimum of ten people outside the company. It enables you to do it individually, rather than in a group setting, and have fewer prototypes.

The goal is to understand whether the people prefer one prototype over another. You can ask some probing questions like: What kind of company you associate this name with?, or Which one of these names seems more valuable to you?, and sum it up by asking them to explain their choices.

Swap tests are another way to validate specific elements of your brand. Swap one aspect of your branding, like the logo or the name, with that of a competing brand. If the result turns out to be better or equal to your icon, youll know youve got some work to do.

Whenever youre doing a validation test, there are five key things to look for: distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, expandability and depth.

Distinctiveness helps you stand out among your competitors.

Relevance makes sure your brands products and messages go hand in hand with its identity. Take Nike, for example. Wouldnt it be weird if they started producing laundry soap?

Memorability ensures your brand leaves its mark. One of the ways for people to remember your brand is to associate it with an emotion.

Expandability allows you to expand your brand in means of message types and products.

Depth helps you maintain communication with diverse groups of customers as well as spread the word about your brand across multiple channels, using different emotions and style.

Cultivate your brand to ensure it perpetuates itself without becoming stale or boring.

How do brands perpetuate themselves? Once you handle the first four brand disciplines, you have to cultivate your brand and keep it alive.

Its not enough to have an iconic brand even for the worlds most famous companies you should have a living brand.

As time goes by, we are all changing as individuals most of us dont even wear the same shirt two days in a row. So, why cant brands adapt to the change?

In fact, brands that remain the same evoke suspicion. Bring some life to your brand, make mistakes and be human. Its okay even if your brand has inconsistent elements, as long as it stays true to its defining characteristics.

Another way to ensure you have a living brand is to view it as a collaborative performance one that requires input and cooperation from executives, employees and everyone in between.

The ultimate goal is to align external actions of your brand with its internal culture, which will help you make it authentic something that customers intuitively sense and respond to.

Although adaptability is important, taking steps to maintain the brand as well as protect its core should be a priority for not only the marketing department but all of your employees.

Organizing brand-related workshops and seminars is a great way to instill a sense of brand identity, which will ensure that all of your employees efforts are based on whether it is good or bad for the brand.

Another way to protect your brand is by hiring a Chief Brand Officer, an experienced professional, to close the gap between strategy and creativity by managing the five disciplines of branding: differentiation, innovation, collaboration, validation and cultivation.


The only way you can develop a charismatic brand is by establishing a cohesive and collaborative working environment that unites both strategic and creative components. You can achieve it by mastering the five disciplines of branding: differentiation, innovation, collaboration, validation and cultivation. Once you do so, you will succeed in reaching customers as well as dominating your market niche.

Now, consider some actionable advice and try to avoid featuritis, or heavily packing your website with design features.

Speaking of web design, widgets and graphics are easy to develop and implement. However, knowing which ones are actually relevant to your brand will not only help you avoid clutter, but demonstrate your real skill.

Therefore, focus on subtraction instead of addition when it comes to web design, and you are good to go.